Today was one of my favorite days of the year as athletes from the over 40 schools in our division completed in the annual track and field championships. The University of Saskatchewan was the venue as students from grade 7 to 12 gathered to try and best their best in running, throwing and jumping events. The activities had me thinking about academics and the disconnect we seem to have when it comes to assessing students' learning. Indulge me, and imagine the following scenario:
A grade 10 student has decided he wants to continue his involvement with track and field, and signs up for the 110 m hurdles event. This student has committed to the team, and the coach has developed a plan to help the student do the absolute best he can. For weeks the student, his teammates and his coach spend time together practicing, critiquing, refining, and celebrating. The coach even invites experts to come to some practices to guarantee the student is learning the correct skills and the coach is looking for the right things to offer feedback on. The day of the big meet draws closer, and the athlete has seen growth in his ability and feels he is ready for the big race. The night before the race the boy gets a good night sleep and then proceeds to start the day of the meet with a healthy breakfast. On the way to the venue the athlete spends time visualizing what the race will be like, the sound of the gun, the steps to the first hurdle, the feeling of launching himself over each hurdle, hitting his stride just right each time. He knows he is ready, and he trusts his practice will serve him well.
This is where the surprise occurs. As the boys shows up at the track he notices something is not right. Why are the hurdles set at different heights? During practice they were always the same. Why are the distances between the hurdles not consistent? During practice he learned how many steps he needed to take until it was automatic. Why is not 110 meters, but 145 meters? This is not what he was expecting.
Being who he is, the boy lines up at the start line and runs the race to the best of his ability, but he is no where close to matching or beating his personal best.
Would we tolerate this if it actually happened at a track event? I can say with almost 100% certainty we would not.
So my question to you is this. Why do we tolerate this in our classrooms? Why do we ask children to practice in one way and then have them write tests that look and "feel" totally different? Why do we ask kids to write tests completely unassisted when during all of their practice time they have always been assisted by the teacher? Is this the absolute best way to determine what it is our students know, or is it the most convenient method that meets the needs of the teacher? In my grade 11 math class I am very intentional with what I do with my assessments. Here are a few things I believe:
I'd love to hear your thoughts.